tv This Is America With Dennis Wholey WHUT June 5, 2011 9:00am-9:30am EDT
>> mr. talibani, thank you for sharing half an hour with us. let's start with square one. everyone has heard of kurdistan and heard of the kurds, but i do not think we know much about what you are all about. how does kurdistan's into iraq? >> kurdistan region is the northern part of iraq. it is basically made up of three provinces similar to your states in the north -- but the area is administered by the kurdistan regional government.
it encompasses parts of other governments as well. we have about 5 million kurds in iraq. >> how many people in iraq altogether? >> between 26 million to 28 million. we have not had a sense is in many years and we hope to have one soon which will give us more concrete numbers. >> so you are a round of 5 million. >> that would be a conservative estimate. >> we hear about that shia and we hear about the cities. do they have their own culture and language? >> we have our own ethnic identity. it is kurdish. we are kurds, but within that broad umbrella of an ethnic identity, there are various different religions. sunni muslim kurds and shiite
muslim kurds. yet some who are christian and some who are jewish, but most of them are out of the country right now. we also have a large indigenous population which belongs to an ancient religion with ties to zoroastrianism. their kurdish by ethnicity, but different by religion. we have a beautiful mosaic of people who make up the kurdistan region. >> if you can put all of those people together and be one person, is there a particular characteristic that makes a kurd a curd? >> we have many, many adjectives you could apply to the kurds, but certainly courageous. we can be stubborn. but we are certainly courageous. we have survived a lot in our history. a lot of atrocities have befell my people.
there is that strength within our society that makes it quite unique. >> one of the things i picked up in my reading is that when we look at the entire area of iraq, and you mentioned a couple of names of the cities or areas like kirkuk and mosul that we know about, kurdistan seems to be a fairly stable part of the country which makes it unique unto itself. >> we are the most stable part of the country by far. out of the 4800 casualties america has suffered in iraq, not one of those casualties has been in the kurdistan region. >> how is that so and why is that so? that's very interesting. the fighting never moved up into that area? >> the fighting never moved up into that area. we had a bit of a headstart on the rest of the country. we have been managing our own affairs since the mid nineties
when the united states set up the no-fly zone to protect the kurdish skies from saddam hussein's regime. that allowed us to have our first elections in 1992 and put together our government and parliament and build our security services. >> you have your own army? >> we have our own regional defense force. we have very strong security services and a good working relationship with our society and i think that is the key. the information sharing between the kurdish public and the kurdish security services is one of the main reasons as to why kurdistan today is safe. >> what goes back and forth between those groups? >> there is a trust. the citizens know the authorities at the end of the day, with all their faults do care about the people. there's a great channel of communication. for example, if there is any suspicious activity, it will a
immediately get reported to the act -- to the authorities. that kind of trust is only started to be built in other parts of the country. >> of the world indeed as well. one of our congressman here, john conyers from michigan, said people -- is that crime exist because people allow it to exist. if you have a good trust between citizenry and security, they report what is on the horizon. >> you could have up fancy satellite technology but if you don't have that human intelligence ability, you will never be able to address terrorism. >> something fascinating to me -- in 1970 and reconfirmed in 2005, kurdistan was granted a status of autonomy by iraq proper. how did that come about? >> there was an autonomy agreement in 1970 signed by the
kurdish leadership and the iraqi government. that agreement was never truly honored by the iraqi government. in 1974, and the algiers accord was signed between iraq and iran, brokered in part by the united states at time. henry kissinger was heavily involved, that led to the seizing of any adult resisting to the kurdish resistance back then and allowed saddam hussein's regime to violently attack the kurds. it collapsed the agreement and lead to more conflict between the iraqi authorities and the kurdish resistance. it unfortunately led to the displacement of millions of kurds. this is a pattern we have seen for many years after that as well. >> so it was 1988 when the saddam hussein guest the kurds? >> that's true. >> that was a horrible thing. >> it was an act of genocide against the people with the
intent of eradicating the kurds from the north. it resulted in their destruction of 4500 villages, the death of 200,000 vehicles -- 200,000 people. it is one of modern day genocide against the people. >> not to be too heavy handed, but the united states kind of stood by. >> the world stood by, regrettably, except for a few friends in congress at the time. good champions like howard berman and other good friends who stood out and spoke out against this atrocity. the world was silent. it was only until 1991 when the world was called into action and protection was put in place.
but in '87 and '88, iraq decimated kurdistan, destroy its citizens and its environment. the world was regrettably silent. >> it has been a road back since then? >> absolutely. we like to say we have risen from the ashes of tierney. -- the ashes of tyranny. we have a thriving civil society in a part of the middle east where there is construction, economic development, social development and an emerging democracy. >> let me tell the folks at home, my guest is the representatives of the kurdistan regional government of iraq to the united states. we're going to take a break and come back on the other side. >> "this is america" is made possible by the national education association, the
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the relationship between kurdistan and the u.s. military over the last number of years. >> it is a relationship that is growing and i think a strengthening, even though we have not had large u.s. military bases in kurdistan. there is a great appreciation from the u.s. military to the role of the kurds in operation iraqi freedom. we were the only real indigenous force, organized force that fought side-by-side with the americans during iraqi freedom and suffered the second-highest number of casualties. we pride ourselves on the fact we fought alongside the americans to fight for our country and build a future for ourselves and i think that appreciation is evident throughout the security establishment in the united states. there is also a strong, robust
counter-terrorism cooperation between kurdish special forces and u.s. special forces in ensuring groups affiliated with al qaeda do not gain a foothold in iraq as a whole, but particularly in the kurdistan region. >> as a representative of the kurdistan regional government in the united states, what is your mission and what is your goal? >> my mission is to strengthen the relationship between the kurdistan region of iraq and the united states. that involves improving relations with the government, think tanks and research institutions. the business community, the media, civil society, every aspect of the foreign-policy community in the united states. we have our work cut out for us but it has been fun. >> you are sitting on the sixth largest oil reserves in the world. at the same time, you just did a
trip to california recently where you visited the president of google and twitter. something resonated with the california entrepreneurial spirit. it is more than oil, isn't it? is business and trade and investment you are involved with. >> that is what we are hoping for. we don't just want to be an oil- dependent economy. we note is there and it's a good insurance policy, but we want to diversify our economy. we have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in kurdistan and there are opportunities for all kind of industries to flourish, whether it's agricultural things, back to where we weren't thousands of years ago, the breadbasket of the region, or exciting new technology and what we can learn from places like california. we have a very young society and our youth are interested in technology. >> 40% of the population is --
>> are around 30 years or younger. we will never gets the figure -- we will never be able to get the figure, but we want to give our citizens and opportunity to branch out and developing these exciting things and we are excited to be launching these initiatives. >> what do people do for a living? >> all sorts of things. whether their government employees, traders -- about our geographic location. >> what are your border countries? >> iran, syria, turkey as neighbors and, iraq we are part of. it is an interesting neighborhood. >> it certainly is. >> our geographic location for thousands of years meant we have been the trade route from east
to west. so there is a real merchant mentality in kurdistan. but we want to -- we are proud of the merchant heritage, but we want to become producers, whether it is in oil and gas or agricultural industries or other folks are listening towell. us, and we have been talking out for tender 15 minutes, they noticed perfect english and an english accent as well. we should investigate a little bit about your background. you were raised in the united kingdom, right? your grandparents -- there were very important people in the history of kurdish independence. there were artists and novelists, poets, intellectuals. >> my grandfather was a poet, a politician, one of the real dynamos of the kurdish intellectual revolution which
was closely tied to the political revolution brought the 40's and '50's into the '60s and '70s. my grandmother, who is still alive is a novelist. she is a novelist and a storyteller. >> any brothers or sisters? >> i have an older brother. he was raised their as well. >> what caused you to be raised their as opposed to back home? >> what i was born, back home was not a good place to be for the kurdish movement. it had recently collapsed and everyone was forced into exile. i was just another one of those kurds who was born in exile. >> what was it that issue view -- that interested in automotive engineering? you have a degree in automotive engineering and or a car mechanic for a while. >> growing up in england, we were removed from politics. i like engineering and pursued
it as my education. i actually wanted to be a car designer and somehow, i was called by the then representatives of the kurdish movement here in debt united states to come out and be his assistant. i was in a crossroads in life and i thought let me try that. i tried it and it was interesting. >> politics worked for you? you are surrounded by it when you were growing up. >> more than that, it became a cause because when you start to realize here we are, so many people on the planet and we don't -- back then we did not have our rights secured, we didn't have our future secured or a strong voice in the international community. when the atrocities befell our people, few countries and few
governments stood out and said this is wrong. i got a real lesson in our tragic history and i had an opportunity to lead -- to never let that history repeat itself. the only thing somebody must do is to serve their own people in their own homeland. >> he married an american. you met her at the state department. >> she was at the state department when we met. >> good for you. if folks know two or three names connected with iraq, it would be talibani, your dad is the president. nor reality is the prime minister. -- nouri al-maliki is the prime minister. sometimes it's very confusing for us, there were elections in
march and has taken a long time to come to the point of forming a government. i know that the kurds, the arab league, and the united states pushed and said we had to get this thing done. now we are in the process of forming a government, which is supposed to be gathered by the end of december. two wars in iraq. what are the physical conditions in iraq? in baghdad in particular? whether we know it or not, and i don't know that we do, hundreds of thousands of people either lost their lives, iraqis, or maimed, injured or displaced and are now refugees. what is the condition of the country? >> i would take you back further. specifically during the tenure of saddam hussein, people were being executed, there was a
state repression on the system. add to that the manipulation of the sanctions regime where the regime and manipulated sanctions so they could keep themselves strong but make the country week and deplete every resource of the country. add to that the wars and you have a situation where the infrastructure of iraq needs a complete overhaul, whether it is electricity, education, water, services, mental services, transportation. it is a country that has been neglected for several decades and is now trying to emerge from a serious war. you have not only the physical situation in iraq, but you have this political climate in iraq which is very new. >> what is the spirit of the people? >> they are a tough and
resilient people, but there are now looking to the authorities to improve the country, to move beyond the political squabbling and actually start rebuilding the country and the infrastructure and the economy. improving the standard of living throughout iraq. we have done very well in the north with the right kind of vision in the kurdistan region to develop that region. we opened the market up to the private sector and put into place new policies. we are hoping to apply those lessons learned to the rest of the country. we want to move beyond the state run monopoly of iraq's history. >> every once in awhile, when it seems called and the president has extracted the fighting troops, there are still a few thousand u.s. troops there. every time it seemed to be moving in the right direction,
there is some kind of violent episode. what do we do about that? does that continue? is it going to be like that for a long time? >> regrettably, iraq has had a very violent history. the stakes are very high. the important thing is to build state institutions like we have done in the north. the buildup has the trust of its people. >> to the folks in the southern part look to the folks in kurdistan as an example of what can be done? >> some do. others may have certain sensitivities or animosities, whether it is resentment of the stability in the north, but many people are asking why they're able to develop their oil sector and why is ours in decline?
why are they able to attract foreign investment? >> it was the answer? >> the answer is wise policies. we have been able to put in place regulations and policies that are attractive to the foreign investor that will bring in tourists and boost the oil sector. we also have a solid foundation and we hope to apply some of those lessons learned to build security services that can be trusted by the iraqi people and have policies that are 4- thinking, that are more -- that are forward thinking. >> things in the north in kurdistan are in pretty good shape. when you talk to your data on the phone, as he banging his head on the wall? >> there are complications iraq has. we have a largely homogeneous society where in the rest of this society, you have the shia
era of s bondunni arab dimensions -- you have a power grab for the power in the center. >> is the idea of the government to share some of this power? >> there are two key things that must happen. the power must be shared, but equally important is that it must be -- to have a strong central government means people will fight over it. we need to implement the federalism outlined in the constitution of iraq. get power to the provinces and regions as we have been able to extract power to the north. >> iran and afghanistan must play a role here as well. >> iran has a sufficient -- iran has a significant role in iraq, as does turkey. to a lesser extent, syria. these are countries bordering
with iraq and the kurdistan reason -- the kurdistan region. you have to wait in the southern part of the country and there is a lot of regional interests in iraq. some of that interest is benign and some of it is malicious. we need to ensure that the stronger iraq is, the more iraq can limit that malicious intent. >> for another conversation at some point, you always hear faintly in the background this idea of kurdistan as an independent country and turkey is involved and iraq is involved. but for the moment, we are saying kurdistan is an emerging democracy, a stable and a part of the world we will hear more about. what do you see in the next five or 10 years? >> i think you'll see continued development of the kurdistan region. it will become a major island of stability in a very turbulent part of the world.
hopefully we can be a positive factor on the rest of the country. you talk about a very serious issue -- the issue of independence for kurdistan. 99% of kurds want it to be independent. in an informal referendum, that is what they asked for. the kurdish government has said it it's not in the best interest right now, to be part of a strong and stable and democratic iraq, we can preserve our history and develop our society and economy. >> wonderful to visit with you. >> thank you, it has been a pleasure. >> for online video of all "this is america" programs, visit our website, thisisamerica.net. >> "this is america" is made possible by the national education association, the nation's largest advocate for